February 28, 2013


Even for someone with a fundamentally positive outlook on life it is getting increasingly hard to see the bright side of things. For one there is the depressing news from a country which was for centuries seen as a source, if not fountain, of culture and higher matters, that there has been not just one, but a veritable horde of mentally defective and/or brainwashed voters who have given in the outrageous bribes by a certain politician with a preference for under-age females. And in writing this down I realise how totally absurd and almost fictional the situation in Italy must be for those who have not lost their minds.

But I am sorry to have to report that things in the Netherlands are hardly any better. Three of the four major Dutch banks have had to be 'rescued' by the state, after those in control have made a total mess of it. The old set of 'old boys' responsible for the gross mismanagement are being replaced by a fresh set of 'old boys'. Instead of seizing this opportunity to put an end to the ridiculous remunerations which have become common in banking management circles, and apparently and demonstrably bear no relation whatsoever to the accountability which was the excuse to introduce these in the first place, the prime minister has defended the top salary of the replacements by pointing out that the salary is 'in line with the market'. In the meantime the tax payer is presented with the bill for this financial fiasco. The same sorry sod tax payer who has been conned by previous governments, in times when the economy - in retrospect of course - was booming, into moderate to zero pay rises, under the pretext that - and I quote - "after the sour will come the sweet". Instead of the sweet we are now being forced into accepting the bitter...

All this immoral behaviour has not led to any self-examining or even modesty. On the contrary: the vice prime minister instead has seized the moment to start pointing at the immorality of those bl**dy foreigners immigrants! He has demanded that immigrants should sign a participation contract, - the objective being that immigrants agree on the basic principles of 'our society'. I, as an embarrassed native, would never sign such a contract, unless those who are consistently and persistently demonstrating their total lack of respect for any principles do so first. The net effect of measures like this are exactly the opposite of what they should be, - at least in the words of the politician who proposed this. Instead of ending tendencies towards homophobia and repression of women within immigrant communities it will, once more, acknowledge and legitimise the already not so latent tendencies towards racism and xenophobia within (apparently) large groups of the native community.

And the weather has been crap too.

So to end this easily forgettable month I would like to share with you this third volume of the "El Sonero de Africa" series by Laba Sosseh (and the great Dexter Johnson).
While I recognise this is not the best record vinylwise, and the recordings certainly don't measure up to the modern-day 'basic principles', I just love the unpretentiousness, the imperfection, the down-to-earthness, the no hassles* fun, - which to me make and have made these records (volume 1, volume 2) into evergreens over the last twenty-five or so years.

I'm going to lie down and sing along with these tunes now....

MAG 104

* líos = hassles

February 22, 2013


Another (short) post in the series of countermeasures.

With this magnificent video by Fanta Damba No.2 (recorded by the RTM in 1983) one can't help but thinking: if this is number two, what is number one going to be like?
For this is a real masterpiece.
From the very first note Fanta Damba goes straight for the jugular. And although she is accompanied by only two musicians it feels like there is a huge ensemble at work. Those two musicians are of the top league of Malian accompagnateurs: on ngoni Moriba Koita* Moctar Koné (see comments - his identity has not yet been confirmed, but it seems very likely this is him) and on guitar the ubiquitous Bouba Sacko, who you may remember from the Ami Koita video I posted not too long ago.

Fanta Damba's vocal power and the ease of her singing in this song is certainly a highlight in Malian music. When I rediscovered it a few days ago, going through a pile of video cassettes, I watched the full twenty minutes with open mouth, tears streaming down my cheeks.

The song is "Duga" ("vulture"), one of the oldest songs in Malian musical tradition. And although the song is often linked to the epics surrounding Da Monzon Diarra and the Bambara empire of Ségou, there are apparently also people who claim it is a Malinke classic. I recommend reading these - varied - explanations about the lyrics and origin of this song, which can be found here.

A remarkable moment at the beginning is when Fanta is rearranging her foulard; it is the first time I have seen presenter Zoumana Yoro Traoré laugh....

*I was initially sure I heard Zoumana Yoro mentioning Moriba Koita in his introduction of this song. But if you compare this video with the one of Ami Koita, you will have to agree that this is not the same ngoni player. If you have any idea about the surname of this Moctar, please let us know.

EDIT February 28, 2013: Flemming Harrev has sent me a scan of the back of the sleeve of Fanta Damba's record SP 005 which has a photo of Moctar (or Mocktar or Mouctar) Koné:
It's him in the video, don't you agree?

February 19, 2013

¿Qué Ry-Co?

In case you are wondering about the fall in the frequency of the posting on this blog, I have recently purchased a new second-hand VHS recorder, and have been messing about with the digitisation of video-cassettes. I hope and intend to share the fruits of these efforts (which are in an exploratory phase right now) at a later moment.

In the meantime here is a short interludum.

With this record by Ry-Co Jazz I get the same uneasy feeling I had when I first heard the CD on the RetroAfric label (Retro10CD, 1996). In fact even slightly more so than that CD. It's not that I don't like the CD; there are quite a few rather nice songs on it. And there is the added pleasure of Gary Stewart's informative liner notes (which is a thing that is missing from a lot, if not most, Congolese albums...). It is just that there is a certain akwardness about it, which I for a long time credited to the Parisian influence. I saw a comparison with the recordings of Kabasele with the African Team, and the feeling of missed opportunities I often get when listening to those records.

But now, many years later, I suspect bad timing may have something to do with my uneasiness. This single is a good example of this. Both sides feature a cover of a song originally recorded by the O.K. Jazz. The A-side is a cover of Dele Pedro's "Tu Bois Beaucoup" (which is also on the CD, by the way), which even within the repertoire of the O.K. Jazz is not a typical song. The appeal of the song is one of a gimmicky type. Musically it is not one of the highlights of Congolese music of the early 1960s. In the version of Ry-Co Jazz the gimmick is watered-down, and the result falls absolutely short of the mark.

The B-side is a cover of Franco's 1960 classic "Liwa Ya Wech". This song has been covered by artists in several countries. I have even heard a Guinean version (and I don't mean the version by Miriam Makeba). In a way this is surprising as this is a very personal song, about the death of a personal friend of Franco. If you ask me the personal touch and even intimacy of the original is completely flattened by this version, even it is sung by Essous, an ex-member of the O.K. Jazz. Although I am not averse to organs, the one on this single does not lift me off the floor and definitely sounds very dated, very late 1960s.
All in all I don't feel all that Ry-Co after listening to these two songs....

DEBS 45 DD 159

PS: Who is this "Mawa"?

February 09, 2013


Usually I am not a great fan of these 'topical' records. My father used to have several of these, with subjects ranging from the first moon landing to the pope's visit to Ireland (recently posted on the Lola Vandaag blog). He had a very special way of boring the pants of visitors...
I must stress that I don't include songs about topical subjects in this category. I am particularly excluding all those great calypsos (either from Trinidad or from West Africa) about the Queen's visit or a local scandal, songs about a strike of lorry drivers, shipping accidents and other assorted disasters. In fact, I wish they would reinstate this tradition. We could have songs about Italian politics ("Bunga Bunga Benga"), about hurricanes ("The Sandy Shuffle"), scandals ("The Zagreb Conspiracy") and footballing incidents ("Christiano's header").

This said, I would also like to add this lp. And not so much because of the subject, the eighth African Nations Cup (Cameroon, 1972). Football matches tend to have a very limited 'shelf life'. I have recorded countless 'historic' matches, thinking they would make for a great evening in front of the telly after a tiring day at work. But I must admit that it just doesn't work like this. Football ('soccer' to you Yanks) is very much an on the spot event. The fiery emotions 'while events unfold' just can't be warmed up to be consumed later...
What really makes this record special is not the music of Manu Dibango. While recognising his importance for music in general I have never been a fan of his music, to be very honest. In fact, the music in this record is of the kind that I would gladly do without.

What does make this record special is the inclusions of the 'live' commentaries from the different participating countries. The commentary styles are varied, from the staccato of Boevi Lawson (Radio Togo), via the very disciplined and rather eloquent Malians Boubacar Kante and Salif Diarra (who even sportingly congratulates the opponents after his country loses the final), to the controlled but outrageous Joseph Gabio (Congo-Brazza). Joseph does not shun insults, both of players of his own country's team - when they 'allow' their Zairean neighbours to score a goal - and of a "cursed" Cameroonian player (also called Joseph) who misses in front of the Congolese goal. And I just love the over-the-top enthousiasm of the two Cameroonian reporters, with one of them announcing: "Ladies and gentlemen, the Cameroon boys are doing it!".
Which brings me to what is perhaps a challenge in the enjoyment of this record: apart from these few exclamations it is all in french.

Watching the CAN 2013 I have often thought of this record, and of the enthousiasm of the commentators. Unfortunately the lukewarm and misplaced arrogance of the European reporters tends to act as a real turnoff, even with the most spectacular matches.

African 360.036